Urban Studies Senior Seminar Papers

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:
Weber, Frank. "How to Implement an Urban Growth Area without Really Requiring (It): Evaluating the Effectiveness of Voluntary Urban Growth Areas" University of Pennsylvania, Urban Studies Program. 2011.


Lancaster County, Pennsylvania uses urban growth areas (UGAs) to prevent the loss of its productive farmland to suburban sprawl. In contrast to other areas that have implemented UGAs, the county government cannot force its municipalities to adopt UGAs, since Pennsylvania reserves all land use regulatory power for its individual municipalities. This paper will explore whether UGAs can be instituted effectively in such a regulatory scheme or whether successful UGA programs require local governments to cede regulatory power to county and state governments. Through interviews with municipal and regional officials and the review of planning and zoning documents, I find that UGAs are effective in the absence of state and county mandates because the county and its municipalities are both interested in achieving the two main goals of UGAs – limiting development in prime agricultural areas and locating denser development within their boundaries. As a result, state or county governments considering the use of UGAs to slow suburban sprawl should note that there are multiple ways to implement such programs.



Date Posted: 16 August 2011